With the aim of becoming the best 24 hour runner/coach I can possibly be, over the next few years I will be focusing on being part of the management and support crew of the British Athletics 24hr teams.
The goal is not only to give my body and mind a rest, but also to learn and grow as an athlete by experiencing things from "the other side". A great 24hr performance is almost as much about the crew and team as it is about the athlete themselves.
With that in mind, here are some of the lessons I learned supporting Team GB at the recent IAU 24 Hour European Championships in Romania, where the British Men took home Team Silver and the Women Team Bronze...
1) Being part of a team can help you achieve your individual goals
It's a strange concept to be part of a team for most ultra runners. We also had a European Champion in our midst (Dan Lawson), so you would've thought that individual goals would be valued just as much as those of the team, but that wasn’t the case here.
Dan led by example at the pre-race Q&A, highlighting how important the team goals were to him and everyone followed suit. The team spirit was immense and all the athletes could feel it.
What some people overlook is that team work can also be the way to your best individual results too. In 24hr racing there are always ups and downs, even in perfect races. The team around you can help you through those.
This isn't just about the physical or mental teamwork, but also what the team ethos can do for the individual athletes.
Credit: Samuel Thorley
When running through a low patch in the 2015 World & European 24hr champs, it was the team experience that kept me going. If it had been an individual performance and that was all that mattered, I might have stopped during the rough patches.
Yet when your team needs you to keep going, you push through. James Stewart showed this in Romania, keeping moving despite vomiting in the first half of the day. A Scottish Spring does not prepare one for 29 degree heat.
James dropped out of the team scoring positions at one point and could have let his head drop, but the thought of supporting his team mates kept him going through the pain, kept him eating and even kept him smiling.
Time passed and James started feeling better. He climbed back through the ranks and - when others faltered - the man from Croy shouldered the responsibility for the team. In the 23rd hour I don't think there was anyone moving faster on that course...
2) It's important to back yourself when the odds are against you
Going into these Champs the men's team was strong - with six members and a reserve - but the ladies were a bare bones trio. In 24hr racing you need three athletes to score points and there are always bad days when you least expect them, so competing with just a team of three is extremely difficult.
Yet Alison Young, Tracy Dean and Wendy Shaw did not let themselves get weighed down by this. All three came into the Championships with excellent personal bests and just had to do a good job for the team.
Even when tough times started to arise, these three ladies backed themselves to do well. They knew the team medal was a real possibility and were not going to accept defeat.
Credit: Samuel Thorley
Sometimes you need to forget that the odds are against you and just back yourself. If you trust that you can achieve something, even when others don’t believe in you, that's often enough to make a tangible difference. Sometimes you can gain strength from fighting against those odds and proving people wrong.
On the big day all three team members dug deep, knowing that if they just kept moving in those darker hours they could achieve something brilliant.
3) We should have done more to help the team nail their hydration strategies
Timisoara (Romania’s third biggest city) can get pretty hot in May. Temperatures were predicted to be in the high 20’s and we planned accordingly.
Yet little things like replacing the electrolytes you're losing in your sweat can easily be overlooked. Ladies Team Lead - sports dietician Renee McGregor - was on top of everyone to think about getting in enough electrolytes/fluids before, during and after the event - but in hindsight we wondered if we could have been more exact.
Given the duration of this event and ever-changing variables like the temperature, we were guessing a little as to how much electrolytes/fluid would be needed.
These were educated guesses mind, with past experience and previously measured sweat rates taken into account, but I can't help but feel the team could really have dialled things in if they'd all taken the PH Sweat Test I had done a few years back.
Preloading before the event with PH 1500 would have been really beneficial too - and certainly something that I would have done myself if I were racing. We'll make sure the team has PH at the World Champs in Austria next year for sure...
4) Obstacles = Opportunities
The Stoics would have made good 24hr runners. Whatever obstacle is in your path, whatever has happened on the day, that’s now a part of your journey.
Be it a blister, a flat tire (for you cyclists/triathletes) or a missed drink, once it's happened, it's happened.
There's nothing to be gained from bemoaning what has been and gone, so instead we have to look for the positives.
James Stewart could have been dismayed that being sick had slowed him down. Yet he saw it as an opportunity. The damage to his legs was reduced due to those slow hours earlier on and this allowed the good times to materialise in those last few hours.
Anything can become an opportunity, a positive even, if you want it too. Some things make it a little harder and you have to be patient, but even if it's just a lesson for the future, or fuel to the fire for your dedication, it'll help.
5) Being on "the other side" can help you learn and motivate you to become a better athlete
Being on the other side as part of the supporting cast really fuels my fire for 24hr racing. I love it.
Stepping back from racing yourself is difficult, but in the long term I know it will help me grow as an athlete and a coach. Sometimes we want something so badly that we crush it within our grip.
So, think about what opportunities there are for you to support someone else in achieving their goals in order to help your progression.
See what you can learn from being on the other side for a change...